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Simon Lee by William Wordsworth

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

How do we treat athletes after they have grown old and infirm? What does it feel like to once have been powerful and then to lose all power and strength?

In Wordsworth's Ballad, published in the 1798 Lyrical Ballads, he explores an incident he had with an old, one-eyed man named Christopher Trickey.

In his youth Trickey had been a strong huntsman with a wealthy family. Now they are all dead and he is impoverished and weak.

One day he is attempting to upturn a root with a farm tool, but he cannot do it. Wordsworth walks by and offers his help. In a single blow Wordsworth breaks the root and upturns it. Trickey, in tears, thanks Wordsworth.

Click here to download a pdf with my notes:




In the sweet shire of Cardigan,

Not far from pleasant Ivor-hall,

An old man dwells, a little man,

I've heard he once was tall.

Of years he has upon his back,

No doubt, a burthen weighty;

He says he is three score and ten,

But others say he's eighty.

A long blue livery-coat has he,

That's fair behind, and fair before;

Yet, meet him where you will, you see

At once that he is poor.

Full five and twenty years he lived

A running huntsman merry;

And, though he has but one eye left,

His cheek is like a cherry.

No man like him the horn could sound.

And no man was so full of glee;

To say the least, four counties round

Had heard of Simon Lee;

His master's dead, and no one now

Dwells in the hall of Ivor;

Men, dogs, and horses, all are dead;

He is the sole survivor.

His hunting feats have him bereft

Of his right eye, as you may see:

And then, what limbs those feats have left

To poor old Simon Lee!

He has no son, he has no child,

His wife, an aged woman,

Lives with him, near the waterfall,

Upon the village common.

And he is lean and he is sick,

His little body's half awry

His ancles they are swoln and thick

His legs are thin and dry.

When he was young he little knew

Of husbandry or tillage;

And now he's forced to work, though weak,

--The weakest in the village.

He all the country could outrun,

Could leave both man and horse behind;

And often, ere the race was done,

He reeled and was stone-blind.

And still there's something in the world

At which his heart rejoices;

For when the chiming hounds are out,

He dearly loves their voices!

Old Ruth works out of doors with him,

And does what Simon cannot do;

For she, not over stout of limb,

Is stouter of the two.

And though you with your utmost skill

From labour could not wean them,

Alas! 'tis very little, all

Which they can do between them.

Beside their moss-grown hut of clay,

Not twenty paces from the door,

A scrap of land they have, but they

Are poorest of the poor.

This scrap of land he from the heath

Enclosed when he was stronger;

But what avails the land to them,

Which they can till no longer?

Few months of life has he in store,

As he to you will tell,

For still, the more he works, the more

His poor old ancles swell.

My gentle reader, I perceive

How patiently you've waited,

And I'm afraid that you expect

Some tale will be related.

O reader! had you in your mind

Such stores as silent thought can bring,

O gentle reader! you would find

A tale in every thing.

What more I have to say is short,

I hope you'll kindly take it;

It is no tale; but should you think,

Perhaps a tale you'll make it.

One summer-day I chanced to see

This old man doing all he could

About the root of an old tree,

A stump of rotten wood.

The mattock totter'd in his hand;

So vain was his endeavour

That at the root of the old tree

He might have worked for ever.

"You're overtasked, good Simon Lee,

Give me your tool" to him I said;

And at the word right gladly he

Received my proffer'd aid.

I struck, and with a single blow

The tangled root I sever'd,

At which the poor old man so long

And vainly had endeavour'd.

The tears into his eyes were brought,

And thanks and praises seemed to run

So fast out of his heart, I thought

They never would have done.

--I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds

With coldness still returning.

Alas! the gratitude of men

Has oftner left me mourning.


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